"My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man."
- PROVERBS 3:1-4
Drafted 32nd overall in the 2004 NFL draft by the New England Patriots, tight end Ben Watson earned a Super Bowl ring in his rookie year. In 2007, he assisted the Patriots into an undefeated season by catching a career-best six touchdown passes. Currently playing for the New Orleans Saints, the 2003 University of
Georgia finance graduate is known as one of the most intelligent players in the league based upon his score of 48 out of 50 on the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test given to all NFL athletes.
But career victories and Super Bowl rings are not where Ben Watson finds his fulfillment.
An Audience of One
“A man is successful when he is in God’s will,” says Ben. “Success in God’s eyes isn’t necessarily success in the eyes of the world, nor is His will determined by what man accounts as successful.”
According to the world, success is measured in dollar signs and stock options, but to Ben, success isn’t about signing a new contract with an NFL team; it is living an upright, moral life in front of his peers, his competitors, and his family.
“Scripture gives us examples on how to live our lives,” he says. “It teaches us how to successfully keep our lives on a moral course, how to love our spouses, how not to provoke our children to wrath. His will is for us to follow these principles and to perform our best with the talents that He has given us. We need to take the opportunities to bring Him glory wherever we are. Sometimes our thoughts of success conflict with His plans for our success; sometimes they are the same. When we follow as close as we can to what we know God would have us do, we are pursuing perfection and striving for godly success.”
A Godly Upbringing
“I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the oldest of six kids,” said Ben. “I lived there most of my life, but moved to South Carolina in high school. My father and mother were both godly Christians who met at the University of Maryland where he was a football player and she was a synchronized swimmer. Growing up, my father was always involved in some type of ministry; he served as an assistant pastor at two different churches, taught at Fellowship of Christian Athletes camps across the county, and found ways to impact our community through athletics. I remember piling in the car and driving across country to an FCA camp where dad was the speaker for the week. I knew about the Bible and was taught Christian values and morals at home. My parents were wonderful examples, but there came a time when I had to make a spiritual decision for myself.”
At five or six years old, living in Virginia Beach, VA, Ben Watson came face to face with the reality of his need for a savior and placed his child-like faith in Jesus Christ.
“Every night, my father and I would box before I went to sleep,” Ben said. “He would get behind this huge teddy bear and we’d go at it. One night after he beat me, I yelled for him to bring teddy bear back for a second round, and I won! Falling on my bed, basking in victory, I remember my father specifically asking me what I thought about life after death. He read John 3:16 and explained my sin and my need for a savior. At that moment, it clicked. I realized that I was born a sinner and I needed to turn from my sin to Jesus for forgiveness. From that point on, I began to learn what it meant to be a Christian.”
His maturity developing over time, Ben began to figure out what it meant to die to self and live for Christ. Growing up in a home with great talent, his parents helped to mold him into a man that would glorify God with his abilities, not just pursue fame and glory.
“Early in life, I had to come to terms with pursuing perfection both on and off the field,” he said. “Even though I believed that I had all the chances in the world to glorify God with my abilities and talents, I knew that I could never do enough to earn my salvation—that’s why God sent His son, Jesus.” Ben Watson
Playing football at a large, athletic-minded high school put Ben on an early path to learning the basics of the game, while sharpening his physical acumen. Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, SC, is known for producing well known athletes signed on to professional football and soccer teams, including Derek Ross and Cordarrelle Patterson. The training Ben received in high school prepared him for the intense college football atmosphere at the University of Georgia. But it was in the midst of the extreme pressure to succeed at college that Ben learned to balance his faith and his career.
He said, “At the University of Georgia we had a chaplain and a coach who encouraged us to grow in our faith. It was college, I was a long way from home, and I needed to learn how to take a stand. There were times when I wanted to be a part of the crowd and experience everything, to try this and that, and to see if there was any fulfillment outside of the Bible and how God commands us to live. I quickly realized that I was made to follow God closely. Nothing could possibly fill the void like God. There were times when I fell away, but I really grew in my faith during college. I married my college girlfriend, Kirsten, and God put certain people at the university to encourage me in my Christian walk. That’s the awesome thing about being a Christian; once you have the Spirit of God indwelling you, He’s not going anywhere. Even if you try to do things contrary to His will, He’s still there.”
In the business world, employees are evaluated based upon the value that they bring to a company; it is no different in the NFL. Players are assessed according to the success they bring to the franchise. By operating upon the biblical principle found in Colossians 3:23, Ben Watson has made himself an invaluable asset to his team.
"Scripture gives us examples on how to live our lives... His will is for us to follow these principles and to perform our best with the talents that He has given us. We need to take the opportunities to bring Him glory wherever we are." Ben Watson
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." —Jeremiah 1:5
“The NFL is a business,” said Ben. “Everyone has to perform. When I went to the New England Patriots, it was a huge change from college ball. Physically, I was as strong as anyone, and I was in the best condition of my life. When a college kid comes in to the locker room for the first time, all the seasoned players take note! I was strong, fast, and ready to play. Mentally though, it was a different story. In the NFL, you have to perform perfectly every single day. You have to play through injuries because, if you sit on the bench too long, someone will take your spot.”
In order to bring value to his team, Ben was conscientious to take care of himself physically and mentally, as well as to become an example for others to follow. A huge part of becoming irreplaceable within any company is to consistently model excellence, in front of both leadership and fellow employees. Ben found this to be true in the NFL, as well.
“Once you start receiving a paycheck, you have to demonstrate value to your company,” said Ben. “Being an NFL player simply means that you have to come in prepared to perform when it’s time to perform, in practice and at the game. You have to take care of your body, your mind, and your weight. You have to sleep. You have to watch your nutrition. You have to work out in the off-season. You have to bring value to your employer by leading in the locker room. I was taught so much in New England. I was taught how to practice and how to build technique. Today, as an older player in New Orleans, I bring value to my team not only by continuing excellence, but also leading. I’ve been where these rookie players are. It is my responsibility to lead. I have to show them what it’s like to win, what it’s like to lose, and how to be selfless instead of selfish. I have to perform as a team player, not as an individual.”
An Average Ben Watson Day
Similar to every other American businessman, Ben Watson juggles both a regimented daily routine at work and a freestyle family life at home. With four children under the age of 5, most days begin with a Bible study, a breakfast with the kids, and a little family time before practice. At practice, the team studies game films of the upcoming opponent and work on game plans to reinforce the fundamentals, improve weaknesses and enhance strengths of the team. On Thursdays, Ben and a fellow player host a 30-minute Bible study to promote unity and help answer spiritual questions from fellow teammates. After that, the freestyle begins.
“Once I pull up in my driveway at home, I’m in Daddy mode,” said Ben, as he described his far-from-normal family routine. “A former linebacker with the Patriots gave me a piece of sage advice that I have followed every day since: When you walk in your front door, let work go. Even if I have to sit in my driveway for 20 minutes to decompress, I have to let it go. When I walk in that door, I’m Daddy, and I’m only with them for a couple hours a day. After bedtime, it’s mommy and daddy time! In our early years of marriage, I wasn’t good at decompressing from work. If I had a bad day, I’d be depressed; if I had a good day, I’d be overwhelmingly happy. I was allowing too much of myself to be tied up with what I did on the field. The latter half of my career has been more balanced, and I’m happy for the transition, because it’s better for the people that live in the house with me.”
Ben is invested in becoming a better player, a better father, and a better husband. He recognizes that balance is needed between his vocation and his personal life. He finds that balance in the strengthening of his Christian walk and makes a conscious effort to continue growing in favor with God and man. From his standpoint, success is only achieved by finding this balance.
“Faith gives me perspective,” said Ben. “I have to live with eternity in view. To be a faithful steward of the talents that God has given to me, I have to give the best of my effort and ability to both my career and my family. Because of my faith, I work harder and I live better! I’m not happy all the time; if something bad happens, I’m going to be upset. If I lose a game or play poorly, I’m very upset. At the same time, I understand that this life is temporal and that there is a much larger picture."
“At this point in my career, I’m not a starting tight end anymore, but I still perform and contribute,” he said. “At 34, I’m closer to the end of my career than I am the beginning, but this only encourages me to leave a lasting mark upon this business of football. I want to leave a legacy in the locker room, with the owner of our club, and at the gym. I’m constantly thinking of what kind of impression I’m leaving on people. I don’t know how much longer I have left in the NFL, but these last couple years I’ve been transitioning into a mentorship role. I know that God still has me on the field so that I can be a mentor to the young guys coming in. There is a play in motion outside of football; I want to leave a legacy of pursuing perfection.”
A Plan for the After
As with many professionals, retirement is an exciting possibility looming on the horizon for Ben and his family. Although he possesses a finance degree, Ben isn’t looking for a 9 to 5 commitment; rather, he anticipates time with his children, his wife, and his ministry.
“I have a strong interest in broadcasting,” he said. “I want to stay close to the game, but I have no desire to be away from my family. I’d love to work with some type of sports ministry, but other than that, I’m pretty open to whatever God has in store for me! One thing I have learned in my career is that God uses willing people. We have all types of different arenas to spread the Word. I have one more year with the New Orleans Saints; we’ll see what door God opens after that. All I know is that He’s not done with me yet!"
"Through my high school, college, and professional careers, I have begun to understand God’s grace. I can look back at that time when I was five years old that I accepted the divine payment for my sin and placed my trust in Christ. This maturity has grown over time. I’m constantly learning what it means to I am pursuing perfection both in my career and my personal life.” Ben Watson
At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down.
Here are my thoughts:
I'M ANGRY, because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I'M FEARFUL, because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I'M EMBARRASSED, because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.
I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.
I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel.
So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.